The name ‘From Software’ is today synonymous with the tough-as-nails Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls games. But before those came Armored Core, a mecha simulation/third-person shooter series that quickly became renowned for its hardcore difficulty and intricate mech building system. This hasn’t changed for the latest game, Armored Core: Verdict Day, but the game significantly improves on something the series hasn’t quite been able to nail thus far: online multiplayer.
Indeed, Verdict Day makes it clear that online multiplayer is its real core (no pun intended, really). Fail to connect to the PlayStation Network and the game harps at you to reconnect. But once you’re in, it’s a rather awe-inspiring, not to mention overwhelming, experience. Players are presented with the world map, a complex screen detailing battle routes and capture points. Once you form a team and join one of three worldwide factions (Sirius, Veni De and the Evergreen Family), you’ll be part of the chaos as well. The big improvement from previous games is that you no longer have to connect to another human player to start a skirmish; you can now create your own AI team mates (UNACs – UNmanned Armored Cores) and lead them out into sorties. In true Armored Core fashion, customisation options for your team is deep, with the ability to configure almost everything from their behaviour to their Armored Cores. All this means that you are now essentially commanding a squad, giving Verdict Day a strategy game feel as well. Did I mention that the AI is decent as well?
What’s also interesting is the persistent quality of the game world; the map resets itself once one faction dominates or once a season ends. Unfortunately, it all falls a bit flat in terms of how outrageously complicated the game insists on being. Menus aren’t logically structured, to say nothing of the campaign map which, at first glance, looks like a hodgepodge of flashing buttons and colours. Overall however, you do feel like you are fighting for the sake of your faction, with your living room as your war room.
But if multiplayer is the meat and potatoes, story mode is the garnish – optional, but something that makes the meal more complete. The game’s story follows Dark Raven and is comprised of 60 missions that can be played either alone or cooperatively (yes, you can bring your UNACs to the party). Dark Raven’s battle take him through a number of rather dull and dreary environments, during which he must complete simple objectives that don’t evolve much beyond ‘destroy all targets’. It feels rushed, but playing Verdict Day‘s story mode does have the benefit of testing out your AC before bringing it out into the big leagues. This is especially important as some types of weapons are ineffective against certain types of enemies, but the game doesn’t really give any hints as to which, meaning you can waste a lot of ammo very quickly.
Verdict Day remains otherwise unchanged. Building your own AC is just as fun as ever, with a delightful amount of parts to use, although the game once again requires you to be realistic about what you can take out into the battlefield. For example, a top-heavy AC mech may have better defense, but may move unreasonably slowly. Combat is still balls-to-the-wall difficult, not to mention ACs only possess a certain amount of agility, making evasive manoeuvres feel more clumsy than they should. Add to this the aforementioned complexity and the brutal learning curve – the game’s finer tweaks will make you scratch you head unless you’re familiar with the previous games – and it’s clear that Verdict Day isn’t trying to make itself accessible to new players.
If you’re new to Armored Core, you’ll likely find it very difficult to scratch the surface no matter where in the series you start, and Verdict Day is no different. Once you invest the time and effort, this is a game that will keep you coming back for more, especially due to the improved online mode, which opens up a whole new barrel of possibilities. The ongoing, in-game war gives a nice level of immersion to the world of Armored Core, along with the illusion that perhaps you really are the commander and star pilot of an AC squad, just without the real-life consequences. Overall, a great addition to the series… if you can stomach it.
Multiplayer wargames are intriguing | Decent AI | AC customisation
Needlessly complex | As inaccessible as ever | Muddy and dull visuals